From New Hampshire roots, Clinton campaign manager rises to top of national politics

  • New Hampshire born Robby Mook is a key player in the Clinton campaign and a growing figure within the Democratic Party.

Monitor staff
Thursday, July 28, 2016

Hillary Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook stood in the corner next to a breakfast tray as he was introduced to the New Hampshire delegation, wearing a dark gray suit, a muted plaid shirt and horn-rimmed glasses.

At first glance, Mook appears quiet and nondescript, but behind the scenes, he is among the most powerful people in national politics.

Born in New Hampshire and raised in Vermont, Mook cut his teeth working in Granite State politics. His connection to Northern New England has been an important asset, especially in recent weeks as he has tried to broker peace between the Bernie Sanders and Clinton campaigns, incorporating progressive Sanders ideas into the party platform and making moves toward abolishing superdelegates.

“It’s in part, a product of where he’s from,” said longtime Clinton adviser Terry Shumaker. “He and (Bernie Sanders campaign manager Jeff) Weaver started out with something in common.”

Vermont and New Hampshire are in Mook’s blood. He was born at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon and raised in the Upper Valley. He lived in Sharon, Vt., and attended Hanover High School.

“This is like family, so it’s an honor and privilege to be here,” Mook told the Northern New England delegation – packed full of Sanders and Clinton delegates alike – on Monday.

Even after experiencing a crushing defeat in New Hampshire during the primary, Mook and other campaign officials are putting a priority on winning the Granite State in the fall.

As poll after poll showed the Clinton campaign losing badly in the primary, Mook and senior staff nevertheless put some serious time on the ground, spending the entire week leading up to the contest in New Hampshire.

“We knew that even if we weren’t going to prevail in the primary, that New Hampshire would be a battleground in the general election,” Clinton’s national press secretary, Brian Fallon, said Wednesday. “We knew we would have to win back many of those Sanders supporters if we wanted to win the general election in New Hampshire.”

New Hampshire education

Mook and Fallon each spent part of their formative careers working in New Hampshire politics.

Fallon’s first on-the-record press conference was with the Hippo Press in Manchester; he spent a year working for the Manchester City Democrats after college doing everything from fundraising to field organizing to communications.

“It was the political education of a lifetime,” he said. “It was that experience probably that cemented my inkling that I wanted to make a career in government and public service.”

New Hampshire Democratic Chairman Ray Buckley was Fallon’s boss back then, and he said Fallon was talented from the beginning.

“It was very clear right from the first day that he was an extraordinarily talented writer,” Buckley said. “We won some terrific local elections because of that talent.”

Mook entered the political scene serving as a New Hampshire field operative for Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential campaign and then worked in Clinton’s 2008 campaign.

Remembered by many as a rising star, his work got him snapped up by U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, who wanted him to run her 2008 campaign against John E. Sununu.

“He has boundless energy; he’s able to get along with people of all different views,” Shaheen said. “It speaks to the kind of leadership he provides.”

Shumaker calls the 36-year-old Mook “scary smart” and mature for his age.

“He’s older than his years and exudes a confidence and experience beyond his years without being arrogant,” Shumaker said.

Coming from the same home state as Sanders, Mook has emerged as one of the peacemakers between the two campaigns as Democrats move toward unification at this week’s convention.

“This has not been an easy ride for our campaign. I’ve never seen him be anything but in command of the situation, confident,” Shumaker said.

The convention got off to a rocky start Monday with DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s resignation amid evidence that some high-level party officials had discussed ways to hamper Sanders’s campaign during the primaries – a clear violation of the neutrality the organization is expected to show.

At Tuesday’s Northern New England delegation breakfast, Fallon took heated questions from audience members about why the Clinton campaign brought on Wasserman Schultz as honorary chairwoman, a volunteer position.

Still, the Sanders supporters in the delegation are moving toward party unity after Clinton’s nomination Tuesday. They announced Tuesday they would cast their ballots for the Vermont senator during the DNC roll call but would individually support Clinton in November.

“That is an extremely positive sign and that’s what we’re hoping to replicate among all the state’s delegations, especially states where Sen. Sanders performed so well,” Fallon said.

Looking ahead

It was clear to Clinton’s staff months before February that they would lose the New Hampshire primary to Sanders; some polls showed him winning by 30 percent.

Clinton officials decided to chalk up their loss while continuing to put in face time in the state running up to Feb. 9.

Mook and other campaign leaders kept coming back to the state before the contest, meeting with their supporters.

Campaign officials described their strategy as playing the long game.

“We did not attack, we didn’t want to go negative,” New Hampshire State Director Mike Vlacich said. “That patience and thoughtfulness is certainly serving us well as we reunite with the Sanders campaign. It makes the conversations a lot easier when we engage Sanders supporters.”

Vlacich said he believes other Clinton campaign officials recognize building trust and unity with Sanders supporters is paramount as fall approaches.

“We’re not going to take anyone for granted,” he said.

(Ella Nilsen can be reached at 369-3322, enilsen@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @ella_nilsen.)